Facebook officially launched its new controversial privacy settings which will have a significant instant impact on the extent to which private information is shared on it. Facebook claims that these new changes will help make it easier for users to decide what to share and with whom, but the reality is that the amount of information that can be set to private has been reduced and the default privacy settings are now configured to have most content shared with the everyone on Facebook and beyond.
The original success of Facebook over other social networks such as MySpace is believed to be attributed to the high levels of privacy it allowed its users to have. Previously, users had the option to share some of their personal data, such as their profile picture, with certain groups of users, such as friends only, however, profile picture, gender, current city, networks, the pages the user is a fan of, and some other personal information, are all now treated as publicly available information which cannot be hidden from anyone if the user chooses to put them on Facebook.
Another major change in the new privacy scheme is that default settings for writing new status updates and sharing pictures and other content, are set to be shared with everyone instead of friends only. This means that when you make a new status update this update will be visible to everyone whether or not you have them as friends, and as a lot of content on Facebook can be indexed by search engines such as Google, this means that even people not on Facebook may find your status updates if they make a relevant search. While privacy settings for such a feature could be configured to a more private option, the majority of users do not check their settings and very few people would realize that their old default settings were changed to the new default settings for sharing everything with everyone without them taking any action!
The new changes in privacy settings do have some new options that could allow users to have better privacy. For example, users now have the option to have per-status update privacy restrictions so that you post an item that you share only with your close friends or only with your work colleagues without affecting the rest of your updates.
It is widely believed that the new changes in Facebook privacy settings were made to push people to share more information with everyone, while this might not be in the interest of the majority of the users, Facebook hopes that this would enable it to compete with services such as Twitter – which by default makes users share their micro status updates openly. However, the purpose of Facebook is totally different from that of Twitter and Facebook’s attempt to expand into Twitter might be faced with a backlash.
If you are on Facebook and you regularly share private pictures of your family and friends, you might want to make sure you check the new privacy settings of Facebook and set your content to be viewable only by the groups of people you desire. If you would not like everyone to know that you are a fan of a certain page, you have no option but to unsubscribe from that page. The same goes for your profile picture, and other information classified as publicly available information, which you will have to remove completely from Facebook if you do not want everyone to see it.
The nature of Facebook is changing and this might be a reflection of the increased willingness of people to share more things online, but I doubt that the majority of people appreciate the impact this information could have on their social and professional life. It is still very unwise to share private information without any restrictions as it would be very hard, if not impossible, to get them off the internet afterwards.